JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, June 21 – Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr is banking on Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi for goals when they face debutants Burundi on Saturday in the Africa Cup of Nations Group B opener in Egypt.
“Although only 23, Alex is an experienced international and I want to see him scoring more regularly for the national team,” said German Rohr.
“He, Odion (Ighalo) and Ahmed (Musa) can cause a lot of damage to opposition defences if they click at this Cup of Nations.”
Rohr has cause for concern as Nigeria failed to score in two warm-up matches against fellow qualifiers, drawing 0-0 at home to Zimbabwe and losing 1-0 to Senegal in Egypt.
But a favourable draw — Guinea and Madagascar complete Group B — should ensure Nigeria top the standings and book a last-16 place.
Here, AFP previews the three Saturday matches with Guinea playing Madagascar in the other Group B fixture and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda squaring off in Group A.
Nigeria v Burundi
Nigeria are the fourth highest ranked team in Egypt and Burundi the lowest with 89 places separating them in the world rankings.
But Rohr became upset the second a reporter described this match in the coastal city of Alexandria as one the three-time champions should win comfortably.
“The national football association president (Amaju Pinnick) says we must win this tournament, but we have a very young side.”
However, the coach can call on three of the 2013 Africa Cup-winning squad, captain John Obi Mikel, Kenneth Omeruo and Musa, to provide experience.
Ranked among the no-hopers, Burundi have impressed in preparatory matches against former champions, holding Algeria and losing in stoppage time to Tunisia.
Guinea v Madagascar
Both experienced Cup of Nations campaigners Guinea and newcomers Madagascar will aim to brush aside poor warm-up form and launch their campaign with maximum points in Alexandria.
Guinea lost to the Gambia, Benin and Egypt while Madagascar drew with Luxembourg after conceding two stoppage-time goals before failing against Kenya and Mauritania.
The Guineans hope Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita can play after injuring a thigh in the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.
Keita and his team-mates can draw comfort from having Belgian Paul Put as their coach — he took outsiders Burkina Faso to the 2013 final before losing narrowly against Nigeria.
Madagascar coach Nicolas Dupuis — one of seven from France at the tournament — has worked wonders to get the Indian Ocean island state to the finals, but further progress is unlikely.
DR Congo v Uganda
Democratic Republic of Congo captain and Celtic midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu has raised the bar considerably by saying his country can win the competition.
“Provided we can fix a few things, there is no reason why this team cannot go all the way,” he said ahead of a Cairo clash with Uganda.
“We reached the semi-finals and the quarter-finals in the last two editions and I believe the team is better now under our great coach Florent (Ibenge).”
With Mohamed Salah-inspired hosts Egypt expected to win Group A, a tight contest is set to unfold between DR Congo, Uganda and Zimbabwe for second place, and a guaranteed last-16 slot.
Uganda coach Sebastien Desabre is less boastful than Mulumbu, saying: “We aim to achieve decent results, especially in our first match against the Congolese.”